Loud workplace - what can I do?

I work in a hospital lab with lots of chemistry and hematology analyzers, all of which make quite a bit of noise. We have a “track system” bringing specimens from analyzer to analyzer, and it makes noise. When something messes up, the track has alarms that go off until someone can get to the problem spot and fix it. There’s a shuttle system from the ER that dumps STAT specimens into this window, and it also has a high-pitched alarm that goes off every time a shuttle arrives (like the huge ker-thump isn’t enough). There’s a constant hum of machinery, with high-pitched alarms thrown in pretty often.

Working in all that noise, I feel like my hearing is starting to be affected a little. I’m finding myself asking people to repeat themselves, and needing the TV a little louder. My tinnitus, which I’ve always had to a low degree since childhood, is more noticeable to me now when I’m trying to sleep. Others at work are saying the same thing - their hearing feels like it’s off.

So, besides going for a hearing test, which I’ll probably be doing soon, what are my options? Who do I talk to about the noise problem? Is this an OSHA thing? I"m new-ish to the country and I’m still not entirely sure who deals with what workplace issues, but I think this sounds like an OSHA thing. Should I bring it to the boss first? To employee health and safety? I don’t want to be the employee who goes running to the authorities or anything, but I"m a little concerned.

Get hearing protection to wear now. This something cheap that you can do now.

Have the noise level tested and involve OSHA if the owners won’t do it. They can look at having a different alarm installed that isn’t so loud or high pitched. They can even go with a flashing light if somebody is just as sure to see it as hear an alarm. Involve OSHA only if the owners don’t cooperate,.

Ditto the advice to try to resolve the problem internally before going to an external agency. First, I would recommend you discuss it with your direct supervisor. Of the options you listed, it sounds like an employee health and safety issue. Ideally, you and your manager can approach them together for help resolving the issue. If your manager doesn’t address the issue, you can go to health and safety or HR on your own, and an external agency if all else fails.

Get earplugs first (the ribbed models work best); “muff” ear covers are better insolation but more of a pain for wearing for long periods, they can be quite heavy. Work with your supervisor to get the hospital’s health and safety officers involved; they should be offering earplugs already, from what you describe. They can measure not only the noise levels in different points in the lab but also how much noise one person suffers during his work day.